Stories of Us in End Hunger touring exhibition for Emma Lewell-Buck MP’s Food Insecurity Bill

Behind Closed Doors

Everyone should have access to good food. No one should have to go to bed hungry

If we measure it, we can mend it

If we are to tackle the causes of hunger we first need to understand how many people cannot afford to eat, or worry about where their next meal is coming from. To do this we need an annual government-led measurement, and ongoing monitoring, of household food insecurity. With this, we can start to really understand the true nature and scale of the hunger crisis unfolding in Britain today. 

In October, Emma Lewell-Buck MP’s Food Insecurity Bill, calling for a routine or regular measure of household food insecurity across the UK, is scheduled for its second reading. We hope that everyone who attends this exhibition will take action and ask their MP to support the bill. The more MP supporters who are behind the Food Insecurity Bill the more likely it is that the UK government will take notice of this important issue. 

Behind Closed Doors: Britain’s food insecurity crisis

Although the shocking figures for people having to use food banks (rightly) continues to attract media attention, a much larger crisis is unfolding behind closed doors in Britain today. This number of people involved is largely unknown, as the government doesn’t regularly count the number of people who cannot afford to eat or who worry about how they will afford their next meal. United Nations data estimates that during 2014-2016, 4.2 million people in the UK (more than all the people living in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Glasgow combined) experienced severe household food insecurity, meaning they could not afford food to eat. 

Without enough healthy and nutritious food, we suffer both mental and physical ill health. Food also carries enormous symbolic weight. Sharing food is important: it is how we celebrate, keep in contact with families, and for some, has religious significance. 

For an individual, being food insecure can mean filling up on hot water, lemon and sugar to keep the hunger pangs at bay; saving the supplies from the food bank so you can have a special meal (a tin of corned beef saved for you and your family); finding another excuse not to go for a meal with friends you cannot afford; or to not take your child to a friend’s birthday party, because you know you can’t do the same in return. 

The experience of food insecurity is deeply personal; it combines physical hunger, social stigma, and shame. But food insecurity itself, like its cause poverty, is a systemic problem. Britain’s current crisis of food insecurity is a result of rising food prices, falling household incomes, growing employment insecurity, and the inability of our social security system to cover the basic costs of living. It can only be changed for the better by tackling these structural issues. 

About the exhibition

Behind Closed Doors is the result of the collaboration between three photographers (Ursula Kelly, Huw Nicholls and James Lane), a graphic artist (John Reeves) and an academic (Jon May, Queen Mary University of London). 

The exhibition aims to raise awareness of the nature, scale, causes and experiences of food insecurity in Britain today. We want to give a platform to people who experience household food insecurity as they are best placed to talk about and present their situation. We also believe that food insecurity isn’t something that happens to other people but can happen to us all. 

In putting together this project we also wanted to find a way in which people visiting the exhibition might be encouraged to connect with people living in household food insecurity, and to see something of themselves in the people who have been generous enough to share their portraits with us.

To try and convey both the personal experience and universality of household food insecurity, and to make connections between the experience of household food insecurity and its (many and inter-related) causes, we therefore chose to combine a set of portraits taken by Ursula with images of food taken by Huw and James. Ursula’s portraits aim to convey something of the range, but also the dignity, of people living in food insecurity. Huw’s and James’ images are deliberately styled to resonate, but also jar, with the glossy pictures of perfect plates of food that fill our magazines and cook books. These images are interspersed with a series of text panels (with information collated by Jon May, and designed by John Reeves) that combine a selection of people’s own accounts of food insecurity with some facts and figures that we feel convey something of its causes and scale. 

The ‘dishes’ selected for display were decided by the meals people living with household food insecurity have described eating. The portraits are taken from an on-going project by Ursula (Stories of Us) documenting the stories of people using a single food bank in the north of England. The personal testimonies are taken from a selection of accounts by people living with household food insecurity shared with volunteers and workers at Magic Breakfast, Trussell Trust food banks, and Voices from the Margins, and with a number of academic researchers (Jon May, Andy Williams, Liev Cherry, Maddy Powers, and Kayleigh Garthwaite) working on food insecurity in London, Bradford, and Stockton-On-Tees. 

This combination of different images and voices helps convey something of the breadth of experiences of food insecurity while maintaining a sense of connection for the viewer that isn’t limited to an association with a particular story or set of circumstances.


All of the work on this exhibition was undertaken for free but we would like to thank Oxfam for providing the funding for production costs, venue hire, transport, and any refreshments without which it could not have happened; our colleagues Andy Williams, Liev Cherry, Maddy Power, Kayleigh Garthwaite, and Sam Strong for so generously sharing their materials with us; and the members of the End Hunger UK Food Insecurity Exhibition Steering Group who oversaw the project and did essential logistical work (Rachel Alcock, Oxfam; Nada Mounzer, Oxfam; Sabine Goodwin, IFAN; Abby Jitendra, Trussell Trust; Courtney Scott, Food Foundation; Zak Bond, National Federation of Women’s Institutes and Imogen Richmond-Bishop, Sustain the Alliance for Better Food and Farming).

About the Artists

End Hunger UK is an alliance of national charities, faith groups, frontline organisations, academics and individuals working to tackle food insecurity in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. More information on End Hunger UK can be found here;

Ursula Kelly is an award-winning professional photographer with over 20 years’ experience of producing portraits to national acclaim. Her commitment to ‘Behind Closed Doors’ was borne out of her strong belief that no one should have to use food banks. She is currently collaborating with designers, filmmakers, and communication and social media experts on a larger social documentary project – Stories of Us – that will highlight the astonishing number and diversity of people for whom using a food bank is a necessity. In collaboration with local community groups, the pilot stage of this project is building stories and portraits of food bank users in Nottingham, providing participants with an opportunity to tell their stories with dignity. It is hoped the resulting exhibition will raise awareness of the project, attracting funds from individuals and businesses that would help develop Stories of Us into a national touring project. @storiesofusuk

James Lane is an award-winning filmmaker and photographer. He works across commercial advertising and short-form content, as well as longer-form documentary and drama formats. Increasingly he feels the importance of contributing a voice to causes that question the status quo and make life awkward for any Establishment complacency. At a time when political decision-making has been hijacked by extreme ideological, morally-bankrupt factions, the role of NGOs, media and artists in calling our parliamentary representatives to account is all the more important. 'Behind Closed Doors' is one attempt to do this. It highlights the chilling fact that none of us are exempt from falling through the cracks of society and becoming dependent on family or friends for basic survival, increasingly likely as an ever-retreating social security has become another political football. And as this current political intransigence continues to rampage past the everyday, pragmatic needs of people, our responsibility is to shout these issues from every vantage point we find. 

Huw Nicholls is a photographer based in Brighton and London. He was drawn to contribute to Behind Closed Doors to help raise awareness of the increasing prevalence of food insecurity. @huwnicholls 

John Reeves is an art director and designer with considerable experience across editorial, branding, data visualisation and user interface design. In an age of deepening inequality, wealth disparity and myriad social divisions, John believes in the potential of design to cross traditional boundaries and open up new forms of dialogue. Food insecurity is perhaps the most pernicious effect of the sustained period of austerity inflicted upon the nation, often affecting those already struggling and least equipped to speak for or fend for themselves. John hopes that the Behind Closed Doors project helps to not only raise awareness of the withering physical and psychological effects of food poverty, but help alleviate the social stigma associated with it.